jefferson's blood
homevideo reportsis it true?jefferson enigmaslaves' storychronologyview the story

Quiz
Jump to question 7
Answer: Three siblings passed as 'white.'

Beverly, Harriet and Eston all eventually passed as white. Madison Hemings remained in the black community.

[Examine material about "Passing for White" in the Mixed Race America section of this site.]



The Lives of Beverly and Harriet

Beverly and Harriet had been permitted to "run away" in 1822, and the fact was noted in Jefferson's Farm Book. Madison Hemings, in his memoir, noted with some bitterness how his siblings had passed into the white world. "Harriet married a white man in good standing in Washington City whose name I could give, but will not, for prudential reasons. She raised a family of children, and so far as I know they were never suspected of being tainted with African blood in the community where she lived or lives. I have not heard from her for ten years, and do not know whether she is dead or alive. She thought it to her interest, on going to Washington, to assume the role of a white woman, and by her dress and conduct as such I am not aware that her identity as Harriet Hemings of Monticello has ever been discovered."

He also mentioned his brother Beverly. "He went to Washington as a white man. He married a white woman in Maryland, and their only child, a daughter, was not known by the white folks to have any colored blood coursing in her veins. Beverely's wife's family were people in good circumstances."

Beverly and Harriet were allowed to run away from Monticello when they were 21. Edmond Baker, Jefferson's overseer, later claimed that he put Harriet on a coach with $50, and sent her off to Philadelphia. "He freed one girl some years before he died, and there was a great deal of talk about it. She was nearly as white as anybody, and very beautiful. People said he freed her because she was his daughter..." Historian Annette Gordon-Reed suggests that Harriet actually went on to Washington, where her brother Beverly was living. Concrete details of Beverly and Harriet's lives are lost. Historian Fawn Brodie writes that they "disappeared into the 'historical silence' that was engulfing hundreds and thousands of other slave children fathered by white men."



The Life of Eston Hemings

Eston's life "is a fascinating example of the capriciousness of black-white identification in American society." writes Fawn Brodie. The 1830 U.S. Census in Virginia listed him as a white man; the census of 1850 in Ohio listed him as a mulatto; in Wisconsin he was accepted again as white. His family, having moved to Wisconsin, passed as white, and his children would live out the rest of their lives as white.

Eston Hemings, Madison's youngest brother, was born in 1808 and died in 1856. He was raised at Monticello and was trained as a carpenter. He was freed when he became 21, in accordance with the terms of Thomas Jefferson's will. After being freed, Eston lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, sharing a house with Madison, his brother, and Sally Hemings, his mother. When Eston registered as a free person of color in Charlottesville in 1832, he was described as a "bright Mulatto, six feet, one inch tall." [quoted in Monticello to Main Street, by Cinder Stanton; original in the Albemarle County Minute Book, 1832-1843, pg.12.] That same year, on June 14, 1832, he married Julia Ann Issacs. Julia Ann was a mulatto who was the issue of a relationship between a free mulatto named Nancy West and a Jewish merchant of Charlottesville, named David Issacs.

After Sally Hemings died in 1835, Eston and Julia Ann moved to Chillicothe, in Ross County Ohio. (His brother Madison had moved to Ross County the year before.) They were considered part of the black community. In the 1850 census, Eston was listed as "mulatto" and described as a professional musician worth two thousand dollars. He played the fiddle and worked as a carpenter and a musician. Eston and his family, which included three children, stayed in Ohio for over a decade. In 1850, he moved his family to Wisconsin and there he changed his name to E.H. Jefferson and passed into the white community.

"What provoked Eston to leave Ohio at age 44, change his name, and pass for white?" writes Fawn Brodie. "We know that Chilicothe was a favorite station on the underground railway for slaves seeking freedom. It was also a favorite area for slave owners seeking runaways and for kidnappers who frequently spirited free-born blacks as well as slaves back into slave territory. In 1851 the new federal fugitive slave law resulting from the Compromise of 1850, with appalling repressive provision, promised to make life for any ex-slave in southern Ohio even more perilous. It is possible that this served to trigger Eston's decision to move..."

Eston is listed in the 1855 Madison, Wisconsin, Directory and Business Advertiser as a cabinet maker. Eston died (perhaps of smallpox) on Jan 3, 1856. He is buried in grave number 3, lot 18, section 3, of the Forest Hills Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin. In the 1860 census, his wife and daughter are listed again as white. "Important for the security of the new family, they dropped the name Hemings," writes Fawn Brodie. "A letter from Julia Anne to her eldest son indicates her husband (Eston) had been known simply as EH Jefferson.... To her eldest son, then a wealthy citizen of Memphis, she wrote: "Would like a good gold ring given to each of my seven grandsons, if you can do it.... Lay me beside your father without pomp or show... Let the stone be plain.. Wife of E.H. Jefferson, born Nov 21, 1814, and died... "

The Daily Scioto Gazette, 1 Aug 1902, published this reminiscence of Eston. "Eston Hemings was of a light bronze color, a little over six feet tall, well proportioned, very erect and dignified; his nearly straight hair showed a tint of auburn, and his face, indistinct suggestions of freckles. ... It was rumored that he was a natural son of President Thomas Jefferson, a good many people accepted the story as truth, from the intrinsic evidence of his striking resemblance to Jefferson." [quoted in Monticello to Main Street, by Cinder Stanton]. Original in the Collection of Beverly Gary.




7. How long did it take for historians to accept that Jefferson had a relationship with Sally Hemings?

·  43 years
·  130 years
·  200 years
·  Have never accepted the idea.

home ·  view the report ·  is it true? ·  the jefferson enigma ·  the slaves' story ·  mixed race america
special video reports ·  discussion ·  links ·  quiz ·  chronology ·  gene map
interviews ·  synopsis ·  tapes ·  teacher's guide ·  press
FRONTLINE ·  pbs online ·  wgbh

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation


SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS